Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made an emergency trip to Moscow on Saturday, breaking Shabbat as an observant Orthodox Jew to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The two leaders met for three hours, discussing both the raging war in Ukraine and the imminent new Iran nuclear deal that Putin is helping broker.
Then, Bennett flew to Berlin where he met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to discuss his conversations with Putin in the hopes of de-escalating and then ending the biggest land war in Europe since World War II. Scholz was in Israel on a visit last week where Bennett said the two discussed their "obligation as leaders is to do our utmost to stop the bloodshed, to bring what is going on from the battlefield to the negotiating table as quickly as possible."
Several Israeli media outlets reported that Bennett also spoke by phone several times with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
With apologies to the Tom Cruise and Rebecca DeMornay movie, Bennett is engaging himself in a very risky business.
The Israeli leader – who has precious little diplomatic and negotiating experience on the global stage and hasn't even been prime minister for a full year – is taking enormous risk putting himself in the middle of this winner-take-all war.
I get why Bennett wants to help. There are 200,000 Jews living in and 8,000 Israelis trapped in Ukraine. Plus, Zelenskyy is Jewish.
So Bennett’s heart is with Ukraine.
He wants to bring the Russian invasion to an end as quickly as possible.
At the same time, he wants to convince the Kremlin that Israel is an asset, if not an ally, useful to Russian interests and thus worth respecting.
What’s more, Bennett sees Biden as weak and, thus, unable or unwilling to mediate this nightmare.
DEALING WITH A MASTER DECEIVER
Yet Bennett is playing with fire.
His efforts, however well meaning, could backfire badly.
In dealing with Putin, Bennett is up against a master deceiver.
A cold-blooded killer.
A former Russian spy chief.
And a ruthless dictator with 22 years of experience operating on the global stage.
PRAY FOR BENNETT
I certainly see the upside for Israel, Ukraine and the world if Bennett successfully brings this war to a quick end.
He will be hailed at home and abroad as a rising star and a world class statesman.
But I also see the tremendous risks.
If Putin plays Bennett and goes on to swallow Ukraine whole, the Israeli prime minister’s stature on the world stage will be vastly diminished.
It could also further hurt Bennett’s already low poll numbers at home.
Let’s pray for Bennett to have the wisdom of Solomon in this dark hour, even as we pray for Putin to be supernaturally thwarted from his evil ambitions.
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.